Signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994—after five years of hearings—the Violence Against Women Act—VAWA—marks the last year of its teens today. Drafted by former Sen. (now Vice President) Joe Biden’s office and approved with bipartisan support, it was designed to give better protection and recourse to women experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault.
Reauthorized by Congress in 2000 and 2005—and along the way adding male victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking to those covered by the programs it supports—VAWA faced opposition from recalcitrant conservative Republicans in 2012. Finally reauthorized this year, the latest version expanded federal protections to the LGBT community, Native Americans and immigrants.
At a party last night in his Washington, D.C., home, Vice President Biden complained about the struggle for reauthorization: “Did you ever think we’d be fighting over, you know, 17, 18 years later to reauthorize this?” He then blamed “this sort of Neanderthal crowd” [i.e., ultraconservative Republicans] in the House for its opposition.
Since 1994, the annual incidence of domestic violence has dropped 64 percent, according to the White House. But there’s still plenty of work ahead to reduce violence and maintain federal and state funding for anti-violence programs. So as we celebrate another year of this important law, let’s light candles but hold the confetti. As Lynn Rosenthal, the White House advisor on violence against women posted today on the White House Blog,
as we reflect on 19 years of progress, we look forward to the day when VAWA is no longer needed. That will be cause for a true celebration.